Woman or Beest?
By Stephanie Miller
Did you know that a wildebeest can run with the herd seven minutes after it's born? SEVEN MINUTES! Holy cow (pun intended), that's amazing. Guess what? I just figured out I'm not a wildebeest. It takes me a while to learn to do things. I probably fell down 100 times before I learned to ski. It takes time for me to learn to do new things and I often do them poorly the first time. Yet, over and over I expect myself to do things quickly and perfectly the first time. I recently learned that our brain only learns when we do things wrong, there is no education in doing it right. (Though I'm the first to admit it’s a satisfying feeling to things right.)
I’ve always held myself to very high standards. When I used to manage people in the corporate world I always said this thing that makes me cringe when I hear it now: I never expect them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. The reason it makes me cringe is because I held myself to an impossible standard everyone (including me) was doomed to fail the day they started. Perfectionism is game that I played in which I established a goal and the moment I achieved it I moved the standard higher.I believed (past tense) that it was possible to be perfect and get an A+ in life. I also believed that by being perfect people would like me better. (I never would’ve said this out loud but it is what I believed)
So, let’s examine this brand of perfectionism. True or False?
It is possible to achieve perfection.
FALSE there is no objective standard for perfection. It is all, always, inside my head. My girlfriend and I are the same height but our weight is 20 pounds different, because we have different body types. Both of us are medically healthy. Perfect for her is not perfect for me. Some people love Picasso others love Van Gogh, but it doesn’t make either one of them perfect and both are exceptional. So, is it wrong to have high standards? High standards are good, as long as they are tempered by reason. Perfection isn’t a high standard it’s an unattainable goal.
People will like me more if I do things perfectly.
FALSE, people like people they can relate to. People appreciate imperfection. Have you ever liked someone who you thought was perfect? Let me invoke the immortal character Tracy Enid Flick in the movie Election. She seemed perfect, but did anyone like her? Wouldn't we rather be friends with Tina Fey * as she stumbles through life? She's not a wildebeest and look how successful it's made her. People will like you if you’re real not perfect.
So, what should we do differently? Well for starters drop the myth of perfection. Focus on doing what is needed, which often is not perfection, or on what you can realistically deliver. We can also turn our attention to feeling good about our work without needing outside approval. If that’s too much for you, just try noticing how much you want approval. Another thing that is very helpful in coping with perfection is to focus on what you can learn and not the outcome. If you genuinely want to grow and learn then making a mistake, or lots of mistakes, is the best way to do that. Fail, rinse, repeat.
And right this minute STOP believing that people will like you better if you popped out perfect at conception. People will like you if you’re authentic. Instead of trying to earn approval try to be real. Try doing things that make you feel good without needing validation to know you are likable.
Do you really want to be a wildebeest? Or would you rather be the radiant, authentic, growing human being you were meant to be?
*You’ve got to read the article about Tina Fey which is both funny and encouraging.